Small parties, but not extremists, benefit from AV
A guest post by Rupert Read.
As a Green Party activist, I am passionate about changing our world for the better, and changing it soon. That’s the first reason why I support AV: because it enables political systems to change more rapidly than does FPTP. FPTP is a ‘conservative’ system designed to make it hard for small and new Parties to start getting votes, because those votes will be perceived as ‘wasted’. And so of course FPTP has resulted in a system where there are huge numbers of ‘safe seats’, where no-one’s vote really matters, and no-one even really tries to change the status quo. That makes me frustrated, and angry.
AV (rather than FPTP) is great news for a healthy democracy above all because it eliminates the ‘wasted vote’ argument, and thus will drastically reduce tactical voting. This is how the great democratic advantage of AV — that it enables smaller parties (that are not thoroughly disliked by a majority) to build up their votes – comes about. This is how the Green vote has grown in Australia, for instance, to the point where the Greens have won seats in the Upper House (elected by PR) through credibility attained by their being able to build up their first-preference votes (through AV) in the Lower House. And the Aussie Greens have now won their first seat in the Lower
House, through second-preference-transfers under AV…
Thus AV, unlike FPTP, makes it comparitively easy for democracies to outgrow ossified Party structures – such as arguably we have in Britain, today. And the beauty of it is that it succeeds in doing this while remaining a rather modest reform.
People sometimes say that AV maximises the votes of extremist candidates. This might well be technically true, in the sense that people are no longer discouraged from voting for the candidate of their choice, under AV, because, as I’ve already remarked, AV eliminates the ‘wasted vote’ argument that is the bane of small parties under FPTP. However, relative to AV, it is FPTP that maximises the seats that are gained by extremist parties.
This is demonstrable for example in relation to Council elections in this country: there are many seats that the BNP have won under the present system that they would without doubt have lost under AV: for the second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for mainstream/non-fascist parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP. In seats where it is not obvious who to vote for in order to stop the BNP, FPTP is the system of choice for the BNP. Which may well partly explain why the BNP, somewhat understandably, is calling the AV referendum a conspiracy against the BNP…
To sum up: Because it puts an end to tactical voting in its classic form and to the ‘wasted vote’ argument, AV changes the expressed first preferences of voters. For example, the rise of the Greens in Australia has been predicated on growing numbers of Aussies voting Green even if and where the Greens have little chance of winning; voters can affords to do this, because their second preferences etc will still count. Thus AV helps create a vibrant democracy with the capacity for change. It enables Parties that are part of a healthy democracy to grow, and thus challenges two-Party duopolies – but it is also better than FPTP at keeping out extremists (fascists, racists, etc.).
If the AV referendum goes through, expect substantial changes to British politics – including an accelerated rise for the Green Party. I want a political system that might start to respond rapidly enough to huge challenges such as manmade climate change, Peak Oil, and the unjust power of bankers, and that won’t leave us waiting a generation or more for things to shift. AV will manifestly help: it will be a step in the right direction, of giving us a politics of flexibility, and also of pluralism. That’s why I’m voting Yes on May 5th.